Chester Fair Aiming for Zero Waste by 2025
The Chester Fair Board of Directors is on a mission to reduce waste accumulation on fair grounds at the upcoming three-day event this August, with a longer-term goal of achieving a zero-waste rate by 2025. The board has launched a fundraising effort with the goal of raising $5,000, an amount that will then be matched by a grant from Sustainable CT.
The conversation surrounding a zero-waste effort for the fair began in 2015, while the board was working as an informal partner with the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (RiverCOG), which supplied trash and recycling bins for waste. Both parties, however, were looking for a method for reducing the waste that is accumulated over the weekend at the fair.
Fair Board Vice President Kim Price had previously wanted to pursue a zero-waste effort in 2018, approaching the board with a presentation for the idea, but the amount of resources involved, including the prohibitive costs and labor hours going into the operation, forced the initial effort to reach a dead end.
The board has worked with trash collectors as part of the fair staff for the last 15 years to understand just how much waste had been found at the end of the weekend. While no exact figures on the amount of trash and recyclable materials could be reported, Price has seen the impact of high levels of waste.
“All we know is that we have up to five, 350 gallon waste containers. By the end of Friday and Saturday night, they are overflowing,” he said. “It’s just remarkable, it’s kind of a sad sight.”
The high expenses the board faced during Price’s initial presentation of a zero-waste project prompted him to reach out to statewide program Sustainable CT for a grant, which was approved with the requirement that the board raise $5,000 to be matched to reach a grand total of $10,000. Through the process of reaching out to Sustainable CT and the subsequent fundraising, Price came to understand the community-wide benefits of the latter action, as opposed to simply asking for a check to altogether cover the costs of the fair’s efforts.
“It’s not just about handing me a check for $10,000 and saying ‘OK, go to town,’ it’s getting the community involved. Since that has begun, I’ve been astounded as to the interest, the encouragement, the excitement the people have to see the effort that we are putting into this reduction program,” he said.
The zero-waste effort is the first of its kind on the scale the board is projecting it to be in order to achieve its goals. Before this year, the board has used recycling bins for redeemables that otherwise would have been overflowing in containers meant for non-reusable garbage; those bottles and cans were then given to groups like the Boy Scouts to raise money.
The board has outlined on a flier for the fundraising campaign the four major parts of its effort to reduce waste at the fair over the next three years. These include providing compostable utensils and papers goods to fair-goers, working with to scrap collection service Blue Earth Compost on the appropriate composting of certain waste materials, and installing water filling stations meant for reusable bottles, with the goal of minimizing the sale of single-use plastic bottles, a waste issue about which Price has learned first-hand.
“Last year the group that was going to take the cans and bottles wasn’t able to get them off the ground fast enough, so I volunteered to do it. So I took them all home, and I was totally horrified, the percentage of single-use bottles that were put into the recycle bins, which became bags that came to my house. I would guess maybe 60 percent of what was in those bags were single-use bottles. They’re just everywhere,” he said.
The final effort is the enhancement of the recycling of all dry materials. This will be partially achieved by performing sweeps around the fairgrounds to bring waste to appropriate containers.
As of the beginning of May, the campaign has already reached around $3,800 in donations from the community, according to Price. Donations by credit or debit card can be made through Tuesday, May 31 at patronicity.com/chesterfairzerowaste. Checks can be made out and mailed to Community Foundation of Middlesex County, 49 Main Street, Middletown, CT 06457. Checks should include the note “CF Zero Waste.”